Aging Tucson Convention Center may get private manager

Council looks to stem red ink, further erosion of business
2013-07-09T00:00:00Z 2013-07-09T13:47:47Z Aging Tucson Convention Center may get private managerDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

After years of covering losses at the Tucson Convention Center, the city is considering turning over management of the beleaguered arena to a private company.

The city expects to pony up $3.4 million to cover TCC losses and lease costs for the last fiscal year alone. The city has always put money into the Convention Center, justifying the covering of any deficits by pointing to the increase in tax revenue and business generated by the events.

But the TCC's public image has taken a lot of bruises over the years as promoters, vendors and attendees all have complained about shoddy facilities, lackluster customer service and more.

As a result, the city has watched coveted shows and conventions flee to other cities or to local suburban resorts and casinos, where the city gets no benefit, making it more difficult to defend the annual subsidies.

But with Rio Nuevo poised to make about $8 million in improvements to the dilapidated arena, City Manager Richard Miranda said now's a good time to find someone who could manage the TCC more efficiently, and possibly repair its tattered reputation.

Miranda will present his recommendation on bidding out the TCC at today's City Council meeting.

Many were optimistic about the change.

Rio Nuevo chair Fletcher McCusker said it should be self-evident by now that a private company is preferable to a government bureaucracy when you want to decrease costs and improve performance.

"It should surprise no one the private sector can manage it better than a government can," McCusker said. "I'm a big proponent of privatization. I think the private sector is much more efficient, more specialized and much more capable."

With many capable private management companies out there, Brent DeRaad, CEO of Visit Tucson, said there is definitely an upside to outsourcing, especially if the goal is to attract national acts.

But, DeRaad said, the current TCC model offers a lot of flexibility so many local groups can utilize it. He said what ultimately works best will depend on what vision the city decides on.

Since the city is already attempting the privatization route with another troubled program, said Councilman Steve Kozachik, it has nothing to lose by testing the market with the TCC.

"Same as with golf," Kozachik said. "Let's see if we can turn these lemons into lemonade."

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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